Interview with David Corley
David Corley released his first album, ‘Available Light’ in 2015 at the age of 53 to great acclaim. The album was a huge critical success, however, during the European tour to promote the album, Corley suffered a near-fatal heart attack on stage in Groningen, Netherlands.
After surgery and a long period of recuperation, he began touring again and produced two further stellar efforts; an EP titled, with typical Corley humour and self-depreciation ‘Lights Out’ and the album ‘Zero Moon’.
Blessed with a gorgeous rasp of a voice, redolent of Tom Waits, Lou Reed and at times Van Morrison, and with songs soaked in hard-won memories and images that materialise as he sings, he has built up a dedicated core of fans, particularly in Europe and Ireland.
Top billing a tour featuring fellow Record Label mates, and including the stellar Canadian band of Steven Stanley, and Hadley McCall Thackston, he took time out in a beer garden in Bangor, Co. Down before the tour’s last gig to share a beer and talk to Folk and Tumble.
FT: So first question I gotta ask you is how the hell are you?
DC: I’m doing OK, taking one day at a time and enjoying life, man. I’m not pushing myself, just having fun over here in Ireland, and playing songs. We’re having a blast on this tour. It’s like a theatre group on tour.
FT: No disrespect to Fealty’s, but you should be playing bigger venues.
DC: Yeah, perhaps, but we don’t mind. We played Static Roots Festival to maybe 500 people, and the rest of the tour was put together at really short notice. But, it’s a blast. We may get to the point of playing theatres at some point, you know, but at this point in time, we’re just enjoying the moment.
FT: What had you been doing with your life before ‘Available Light’?
DC: I always dabbled with music and played in a number of bands, did any number of jobs, drove trucks, I was a bike messenger, building work, you name it. I did what I needed to get by.
FT: You put your first album out at 53?
DC: Well, I did have a demo on CD in 1999, and then I had another one with my band Medicine Dog in Lafayette in probably 2007 or 2008.I tried a few bands and it was more, you know, renting rehearsal space and getting people organised, and getting gigs together. It wasn’t for me. My time was better spent learning to make a song. I started writing songs when I was about 8 years old just playing around. I didn’t invent it they just came to me.
FT: What about that voice? How do you get a voice like that?
DC: Someone asked me and I told them a hundred thousand cigarettes, too many whiskeys, and a few heart attacks. I kinda paid for the voice, you know.
FT: Comparisons are made to Tom Waits and Lou Reed…
DC: Yeah, I can really do the Tom Waits thing to a T. When we were recording with Chris ( Brown, Album Producer), I was doing the Waits thing. He stopped and said, “David, do your own thing, not impressions”.
I did an album in Los Angeles that I played all the instruments on and I thought, well you know this it, this is the one. But, you know, I didn’t know anyone to give it to. I just didn’t know the business. I had a couple of meetings with the people in Atlantic Records. They were going, you know, “nice songs, David, but you’re not really in the game”.
FT: Do you think that’s because they didn’t hear a single?
DC: Yeah, the Tom Petty Line. ‘The A and R man said I don’t hear a single’. You know my music. I write 6 minute long songs that are not hits, man.
I think I kinda know how to write a song now. I’ve been doing it so long, I’ve reached a point where I can say I can do better but these are good. Actually, I can write a hit song. I’ve got this country song I’m working on, ‘Kill Me Crawfordville’, which is a little town just outside LA. That is a country hit, man.
FT: Do you still perform any of the old songs live?
DC: Yeah, ‘Blindman’ from ‘Lights Out’ and even ‘Western Sky’ went through a kinda metamorphosis. That’s an old tune from maybe 2007-2008, I think but it kinda morphed into something else, a kinda different version. I want to use a lot of those songs. As a novice, I was just learning. I was a terrible producer of myself. But, you know, I was a young man. I thought I had the tiger by the tail. What did I know!?
FT: So, hooking up with Chris (Hugh Christopher Brown, Wolfe Island Records) was the best thing to happen?
DC: Yeah, I’ve gotta say. That was the answer. Chris got me and my music from the off.
FT: You know there is a “Corley Sound” now? The husky, smoky drawl, counterbalanced by soft, female vocals, almost a sweet antidote to the dark tales?
DC: Well, that’s all Chris right there. We met through my dearest friend in life Kari Auerbach, who seemed to know we’d hit it off and said: “David you gotta meet Chris Brown”. For the longest time, for whatever reason, it just didn’t happen. Then, when Kari and I hooked up again I did finally meet Chris and we hit it off immediately.
We had dinner and decided to make a record. We recorded all the songs on ‘Available Light’ within two days. We recorded with just with drums, guitar and a vocal, but it was a finished record to me. It was a better recording than I had ever heard.
All the other added to it, that’s all just Brown’s own genius. He was adding these girls’ vocals, and I was like, “hey man, I don’t know”.
Well, now when I look back on it, obviously he was right. It was a stroke of genius but at the time I just wanted it to be rough. Chris really smoothed it out in a good way. He is so organically minded that he can do so without overproducing it. I just wanted bass, drums, guitar, vocals. I wanted it to sound like one take.
FT: A number of songwriters have ventured into other forms of writing: Willy Vlautin, Josh Ritter, etc. Have you ever considered branching out into other forms of writing?
DC: If I had the time. If I was gonna live til I was 120 years old then I’d definitely write a book. It’s taken me this long to get reasonable at writing songs! I love reading. At the moment, it’s Patti Smyth’s autobiography but I like to read wide – sci-fi, Thomas Pynchon, Philip K. Dick, Cormac McCarthy…
‘Desert Mission’ on ‘Zero Moon’ is actually based around McCarthy’s ‘Blood Meridian’. That’s a really nasty book. It’s kinda given for a songwriter to read widely and take it in. I kinda read anything I can get my hands on, as well as listening to the greats like Neil Young and Van Morrison. Then trying to work out the magic involved. What’s that special gift they have that lifts it to that level.
FT: I think what works so well in your songs is that people can identify the characters. They’re not always likable characters either… On ‘Available Light’ there’s a line “my book, *well actually, it’s a movie now.
DC: The idea is the character’s bloated image or ego of himself. But that’s the character I’m drawing in the song.
FT: So, what’s next for you David, when can we expect the next album?
DC: I think I’ll leave it a year or two. I have a lot of songs. Some I think are real killers. I’ve put two albums and an EP out in the last three years and I don’t think that’s too bad. The next album, I want to really shock people and knock them down with.